India's success in its long stretch of cricket on home soil since September can largely be credited to all-round team work, though it is their bowling department, specifically two spinners, who deserve special mention in this regard.
Ravindra Jadeja, along with spin partner Ravichandran Ashwin, can perhaps be considered the primary architects of several Indian victories over the last six months or so. While the batsmen, spearheaded by Virat Kohli, did their job with spectacular knocks that have helped set daunting targets for the opposition, it is the combined success of Jadeja and Ashwin that ultimately helped the hosts seal the deal.
Jadeja has always been seen as a sidekick to Ashwin, who has had one accolade after another showered on him after a terrific season at the end of 2016, winning the 'ICC Cricketer of the Year' among others. The two bowlers might be at the top of the ICC Test bowler's rankings, with Ashwin at No 1, but it perhaps is Ashwin who edges slightly ahead of Jadeja when it comes to getting the deserved credit. Jadeja is to Ashwin what Morne Morkel is to Dale Steyn and what Waqar Younis was to Wasim Akram.
There were moments, however, when Jadeja outshone his spin partner. The fourth innings in the fifth and final Test against England in Chennai is a case in point, where the Saurashtra bowling all-rounder ran through the opposition to finish with figures of 7/48, his best innings performance in Tests that helped seal a 4-0 series victory for the hosts. A rare off day for Ashwin, that too in his hometown, turned out to be an opportunity for Jadeja to showcase his ability to decimate the opposition single-handedly.
While Ashwin's ability to use drift and turn has made him the fastest to 250 Test wickets, Jadeja's stifling accuracy, as well as his variations in pace and length are what make him such a lethal option with the ball. The former Chennai Super Kings all-rounder is not someone who will shy away from long spells in order to set a batsman up for a potential dismissal.
He is no pushover with the bat either — one cannot ignore the batting abilities of someone who happens to be the only individual in the history of Indian cricket to hit three triple-centuries in domestic cricket. Those feats helped fast-track him into the Test team, as he made his debut in the 2012-13 Test series against England at home.
However, it was only in the next assignment during the four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy, that he produced his first major performance. Even though he was included as the third spinner in the Indian squad, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha being the others, he finished as the second-highest wicket-taker with 24 wickets and troubled captain Michael Clarke scalping him five times.
His early years did not come without a bit of ridicule though. His triple centuries in the Ranji Trophy, as well as his subsequent failure to carry those massive knocks over to the international arena made fans have a jibe or two at him on the social media in his early years. It took Jadeja a while, but his reliability with the bat down the order over the next few years helped silence those critics.
The current Indian Test team probably has one of the solid lower-orders than every before and Jadeja has been a crucial part of it. In the last 10 Tests that he has played, Jadeja has 451 runs at an impressive average of 45.1 with four half-centuries, which includes his career-best score of 90 at Mohali that could have been converted into a century had it not been for a rash shot.
Jadeja is currently enjoying an extended stretch of dominance with the ball, which started back in the 2015-16 edition of the Ranji Trophy in which he collected six back-to-back five-wicket hauls for Saurashtra aside from scoring two fifties. Such brilliance was hard to ignore, and it fast-tracked his return to the Test team during the home Test series against South Africa. He made full use of that opportunity by collecting 23 wickets at 10.82.
The Saurashtra all-rounder will draw inspiration from his perfromances against the Australians four years ago, when he takes field in the opening Test in Pune on Thursday. Before shifting his focus to limited-overs cricket, Jadeja will look maintain the momentum with another fine all-round outing.